Thursday, July 16, 2009
Ney Payasam (Rice Pudding With Ghee)
Ney Payasam is the offering prepared on the occasion of many holidays in honor of Divine Mother. I remember how wonderful it was when we had the annual Bhagavat Sevai pooja at home on a Friday evening. Our grandfather was busy over a huge bronze pan called 'uruli' full of ney payasam. All of us children had our jobs too; the most important one was to collect and prepare beautiful and fragrant flowers. The whole house and surroundings were cleaned thoroughly and the altar was gloriously decorated with rangoli (rice flour designs), lamps, and flowers. The warm golden glow of the oil lamps, the fragrance of the sandalwood incense, and the recitation of beautiful chants praising the divine transformed and transported our home into another plane. All who were assembled for the pooja turned our minds to dwell on the meaning of the melodious chants. Then it was finally the magical moment we had anticipated all day long - all the children were called forth to be blessed. Mere words cannot describe the enchanted and overwhelmingly grateful feelings we experienced as the elders and priests uttered blessings and showered us with a cascade of the blessed rose petals - the colorful, fragrant, soft shower brought such joy and contentment and left us feeling utterly and completely protected! Finally, when we were served the "prasad"( the blessed ney payasam), it made the special evening complete.
The ney payasam is very rich and is served in small quantities. It is a perfect example of quality mattering over quantity. Paji's father used to make the rich payasam ever so richer with a double dose of the jaggery, honey and rock sugar, that one could barely eat a spoonful!
We used to be amazed by the way the rice in the payasam turned glassy bathed in the syrup formed by all the jaggery, honey, and ghee. It is a matter of science actually - the principle of osmosis at work. The water moves from inside the rice (high water potential) to the outside of rice surrounded by the sugar (low water potential); this process makes the bloomed starch in the cooked rice shrivel a bit and makes it translucent. If you would like to know more about osmosis click here.
Ney Payasam lasts a long time as sugar is an excellent preservative. It can be kept at room temperature in a covered container for at least a week. For longer storage, keep it in the fridge and allow it to warm to room temperature before serving. The ratio for traditional ney payasam is 1 measure rice:1 measure ghee:3 measures Jaggery. Here is my lean (compared to the traditional) version.
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 cup Indian Jaggery or Dark brown sugar
2 - 3 Tbsp Ghee
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped raw Cashews
2 Tbsp Raisins (Optional)
2 Tbsp Coconut, grated or cut in fine pieces
1 tiny pinch Saffron
5 pods Cardamom
2 Tbsp Honey
Wash the rice well and cook in 1 cup of fresh water until soft.
Chop the jaggery and add to the rice. Don't be alarmed when the rice becomes soupy; that is the effect of osmosis.
Cook until the jaggery forms a thick syrup and there is not much liquid left in the pan. Stir in one Tbsp of the ghee.
Remove from heat.
Heat the remaining ghee in a small pan and and toast the cashew pieces; when they turn golden, add the coconut and cook stirring constantly until golden.
Stir in the raisins if using and cook stirring until they puff up.
Crush the cardamom pods slightly and take out the seeds; discard skins. Grind the cardamom seeds and the saffron with a pinch of sugar using a mortar and pestle until finely ground.
Mix cardamom and the fried cashew mixtures into the payasam. Stir in the honey. Cover and let cool.
Serve the payasam in small quantities.